A Whale's Tale

Just after every New Year, the waters in the Socorro Islands cool down a few degrees due to prevailing ocean currents, and we go on "whale watch", looking for our first Humpback Whales of the season.

Each year, 40 ft. Humpbacks migrate from Alaskan waters to the Socorro Islands (The Revillagigedos Archipelago) to calve and breed. We've witnessed this in each of the last 14 seasons in Socorro (typically late January through early April), and it's a spectacular display of nature! We hear plaintive "whale song" on nearly every dive (the song changes each year, according to scientists), and frequently see the whales cavorting topside.

As part of the courtship ritual, the whales "breach" (throwing themselves out of the water to fall back with mighty crash), "spy-hop" (elevate their heads to check out the Solmar V or its tenders), and repeatedly "tail-slap" the surface with their giant tails.

In recent years, we've also had more underwater encounters with humpbacks than ever before. Part of this is due to learning how to interact with the whales (we don't "chase" them, but they are curious about our tenders and the Solmar V), and part of this is also due to the whales becoming familiar with both our vessel and divers.

Last year was an exceptionally good "whale season" and ended with a fantastic whale's "tale". Apparently, one of the Humpbacks gave birth to her calf late in the "season", and remained with the calf in April and early May as the rest of the whales left for Alaska. Her "escort" (another adult whale, usually also female), also stayed.

With no other whales around, the cow, calf, and escort "adopted" the Solmar V as their companion, and were seen frequently from the boat and in the water. It was considered "quite routine" to see the cow and calf on either side of the vessel for three back-to-back trips. And for long periods of time!

Humpbacks spend a lot of time training their calves to be "independent" and they stay very close to them right after birth as they teach them basic skills. Over the next few weeks and months, however, the mother and escort teach the young calf to be independent by letting the calf venture farther and farther away from them while always keeping a watchful eye. The calf (12-15 ft. in length) nurses during this entire period while preparing for the migration back to Alaska.

The encounters were spectacular, and in early May, the three whales departed.

We are looking forward to seeing all the whales again this year (we just heard, yesterday, from our captain at Roca Partida; the Solmar V has already had one humpback swimming around the boat for a half hour) and we have our fingers crossed that we'll see our "special cow and calf" again this year.

Whale Season in the Socorros (The Revillagigedos Archipelago) is just another fantastic part of our wilderness diving cruises, and while we don't see as many Whale Sharks during this time of the year, it's more than made up for by the Humpbacks. The manta activity remains intense, as does the shark and fish activity that are also the signature of Socorro diving.

Thanks, too, to photographer Eric Hanauer for his shot of the cow/calf.  You may see a larger version of this wonderful  image (and it's WELL worth the mouse click) on his web site at www.ehanauer.com.

This article is from the Solmar V eNEWS Article Archive

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